A Story by Carol Cashes

This is a one story of several - all based in Shiller's Pond, a fictional small town. The Grocer is the title and he is the narrator.




Randa Pitts brought me one of her blackberry pies this morning.  They’re not really very tasty, you’d think that ten years of practice would have improved more than her delivery schedule.  I keep waiting for the law of averages to catch up, and one day her pies will inadvertently have a flaky crust.  Or maybe one day she will accidentally spill some extra sugar in the fruit mix so a body could eat it and keep a straight face.  The expression “killing you with kindness” holds a lot more meaning when you’re referring to Randa and her pies.


Ten years ago, kindness was not a word that would have been used when referring to Randa.  Ever.  But something happened, something that changed her, softened her, at least on the inside, and she has spent the last ten years putting out good works...and bad pies.


She was always stocky, what my father would have called a sturdy-legged girl.  As a baby, her chubby little red face seemed to be set in a scowl, and remarks were generally confined to the lacy beribboned frocks her mother must have prayed would help.  They didn’t.


Her disposition was as unpleasant as her features, and Mothers forced their offspring to invite her to their little social gatherings because her daddy was rumored to be related to the governor.  Exactly how was never fully explained, but mothers don’t burn bridges for little-Johnny-who’s-gonna-be-somebody, even if the bridge may not exist.   You always knew a birthday party was eminent when you saw sniffling children trudging behind their mothers to the post office, bundles of tear-stained envelopes clutched in their hands. 


Adults tried to show, or even feel, compassion for Randa, whose mother died of tuberculosis when she was only three, and a third cousin on her daddy’s side moved in to care for her.   Her daddy was employed as an accountant for Hooper’s Hams, a large processing plant located some seventy miles east in Donnevet.  This commute meant his absence at least twelve hours daily, and Randa only saw him briefly on week-ends, an arrangement  that seemed agreeable to all parties.   If it really takes a village to raise a child, then Randa was our resident orphan.


It’s a known fact that when the Baptist Ladies Social Club murmurs “Bless her heart, she tries,” they’re talking about an ugly girl with a sweet disposition.   Randa never prompted more than “So sad, her mama dyin’ so young and all...” and the subject was quickly changed.   The staunchest Christian women had their faith tested and soon discovered that two cheeks weren’t nearly enough to turn from Randa. 


She grew more unpleasant as she grew...and grew.  By her early twenties, she stood at five foot eleven, and one hundred and eighty five pounds, which amplified her disagreeable disposition to that of a junkyard dog.  Her father had died some years back, the cousin had returned to her family, and Randa lived alone.  Well, almost.  Somewhere she got the idea of raising snakes for zoos and pet shops, and, to everyone’s surprise, made quite a good living buying and selling serpents. As for marriage, even the most mercenary of the town’s eligible men, young and old, could not overcome Randa and a houseful of snakes. It was the stuff of nightmares to the next generation of children, and more than one bad child was reformed by the threat of being left at her doorstep.


But ten years ago, to everyone’s surprise, a circus came to this little town.  It had never happened before, and it hasn’t happened since.  The singular appearance of this circus is historic in itself for Shiller’s Pond, but the complete personality change of Randa is the real story and the circus’ arrival, strangely enough, is generally remembered only as a part of that story.


Along with the standard couple of acrobats, and four or five clowns with whiskey breath, there were two tired and gray-nosed lions, one foul tempered panther, and fifteen little dancing dogs.  Or what everyone thought was fifteen dogs �" there were actually only fourteen of the canine species.  The fifteenth was an animal not immediately recognized in this small and unsophisticated town �" an animal not indigenous to the United States - a mongoose.  When all fifteen little critters were running around the center ring each jumping, flipping, and leaping through hoops set at various heights, you would hardly notice that one of these furry performers was just a little different.  It wasn’t until the trainer had lined up all his little stars, and motioned for the mongoose to come forward, that it became obvious it wasn’t just another little weenie-dog-peek-a-poo mix. 


The little mongoose sat up on his hind legs and watched the trainer intently.  From under one of the little stands that propped up a hoop, the trainer pulled out a small cage, and there, coiled inside was a large black king snake.  I figure the trainer was trying to cut his overhead by trapping and catching a common, native snake for his act, I’m sure in the beginning he spent a great deal of money on more colorful, exotic species.  As awareness of the well-known relationship of snake and mongoose dawned and those who knew the story of Riki-tiki-tavi quickly highlighted the tale for the less learned, silence spread through the crowd.  This seemed to make the trainer a little nervous and he threw several quick glances over his shoulder at the eerily silent crowd.  Of course, he had no way of knowing that this particular crowd had a special interest in snakes, even dull, charcoal black king snakes found in everybody’s barn.


The little mongoose, who hadn’t moved so much as a whisker, never took his eyes off his natural enemy, and I swear that his eyes glowed brighter as he choreographed his victory.  They say that show dogs know they are on display and will literally prance around the ring.  I would swear this little mongoose knew he had the undivided attention of the audience, and pro-wrestlers could have learned a thing or two about showmanship from little Riki-wannabe.


There was the expected circle and feint, bluff and strike.  Round and round the ring these two natural enemies played out the scenario �" National Geographic would have been proud of this textbook performance.  No one could have predicted what happened next.


From the back of the tent, a shrill whistle pierced the silence, startling little children, and squeezing the breath from more than one Playtex girdled diaphragm.  Even the little mongoose paused in his confident dance of death.  And in that millisecond, the rather slow moving king snake became a blur of charcoal colored rope, wrapping around the surprised little mongoose and covering every inch of him except his shiny little nose.


I don’t think  that old king snake actually squeezed the little animal, I honestly believe that little Riki expired from heart failure.  Not in the history of viverrines everywhere, had such an unlikely opponent ever triumphed over the ferocious little beast.


After startled gasps and muttered oaths, everyone seemed to be holding their breath.  Several tense moments passed, and the old king snake slowly released his coil, almost gently laying the mongoose on the ground, and moved away, toward the cage. 


With everyone’s eyes glued to this scene, they failed to see Randa as she calmly walked down the aisle and they all seemed dazed when she stepped into the ring.  Those in the closest seats say she murmured something to Old King, who recoiled himself in the cage and lay his head down and closed his eyes. 


Randa calmly closed the cage door, picked it up easily with one muscled arm, and turned to the pale trainer.  What she said to him could not be heard by anyone, but when she finished speaking, he jumped to his feet, gathered his canine cohorts and herded them out of the ring and the through the back of the tent. 


Turning to the audience, she was silent for a moment, looking defiantly out at her neighbors.  As she continued to glare at the town that feared and hated her so, her expression began to change.  Sadly, as if finally accepting a long-denied truth, she shook her head and headed out the way she came in, watched by every pair of eyes in the tent.


I do not know what kind of revelation occurred to her in that ring, but within a week, she began showing up with those awful pies,  started giving free tours to the grade school to educate the kids about snakes, and wrote large checks to the First Baptist Church of Our Lord and Jesus for the roof fund.  The most alarming change, and I have to admit, the scariest by far, were her first attempts at smiling.  Having been born to scowl, it had to be as painful as it looked.  But Shiller’s Pond, being pre-dominantly Christian, notwithstanding the Goldsteins who ran the pawn shop, accepted her into the fold, because, after all, she was one of their own. 


No one can figure out how she decides who will be each week’s pie recipients, but each, in their turn, graciously accepts the pies she offers as atonement for her unpleasant past.  And no one seems to notice or will comment on the strange squint-eyed expression on most of the locals’ pigs and stray dogs in the area the day after pie day.

© 2017 Carol Cashes

Author's Note

Carol Cashes
Part of an anthology called The Grocer. I have several stories about the residents of Shiller's Pond and they are all told by The Grocer.

My Review

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Touching story. I love stuff that makes me think or feel a specific emotion. This story made me feel mixed feelings of sadness and optimism. The message you share is quite enlightening. Well done, beautiful story.

Posted 1 Year Ago

Carol Cashes

1 Year Ago

Thanks for reading. Randa belongs to a select group of residents that live in Shiller's Pond. Thei.. read more
Hi Carol. All the time I was reading this I was thinking of Sam, and I'm delighted to see that he's already commented.

This is first-class descriptive writing. I don't know much about Midtown US in maybe the 30s - 50s or so period but that's what this evokes for me. I was engrossed. Perhaps someday I will return to Shiller's Pond.

Very nice work!


Posted 1 Year Ago

Carol Cashes

1 Year Ago

Thank you for reading this. Randa's one of my favorite people who live in Shiller's Pond. It's an .. read more
Quite a unique, perhaps quirky story, and one that I enjoyed. It's my nature to root for underdogs, so I'm happy that Randa found her place. A small error here--"and the through the back of the tent."

Posted 1 Year Ago

Carol Cashes

1 Year Ago

Thank you, Randa is just one of the characters in my homespun tales, based Shiller's Pond, and told .. read more
you showed us a very nice character. .character building is never easy..you give them body features,manner, then you just let her do the rest by herself..that was very nice,I just loved it
Lovely write

Posted 1 Year Ago

Carol Cashes

1 Year Ago

Thank you. I appreciate your reading this. She's one of my favorite characters of Shiller's Pond

1 Year Ago

You are welcome and yes she is so very nice character.
A really well done story - start to finish.

Posted 1 Year Ago

Carol Cashes

1 Year Ago

Thank you for reading. She's one of my favorite characters, and I'm trying to work her into another.. read more

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5 Reviews
Added on June 13, 2017
Last Updated on June 13, 2017
Tags: fiction, humor


Carol Cashes
Carol Cashes

Biloxi, MS

I'm very cynical, jaded, just this side of bitter and the only reason I haven't crossed that line is a good man loves me. I am extremely empathetic, but seldom sympathetic. I can be a ferociously lo.. more..


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